Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Don't change too many dollars. In fact, you can pay for many things with US dollars cash. You can pay for NOTHING with credit cards, and there are no ATMs in Myanmar. Visitors will definitely need some local currency, and the current rate of exchange is about 900 Kyat for $1 US. The best rate is for $100 notes. The best place to change is in a shop or at your hotel. I changed a single $100 note and found myself having to go for posh meals so I could spend it all in five days. Oh, and people are very fussy about the cash dollars they'll acept. Please, no tears, creases or marks on the notes... and only the new notes - no old style ones.

My first day exploring Yangon made me realise that the central area is pretty compact. I got lost just twice; both times by missing my turning because I didn't think I'd walked far enough and continued down a particular road (watching my step at every pace to avoid holes and loose stones). I also underestimated the weather. It was overcast when I set out, but within a couple of hours I was walking around in hot and sunny conditions. Back in the hotel I noticed how red my arms and neck were ! The next days I wore my cap and applied sun lotion. This resulted in the irritating combination of sweat and lotion on my face and in my eyes.

When you visit a Paya (or pagoda) you need to remove your shoes and socks. To show full respect, walk in a clockwise direction around the pagoda. For the best of luck, do so nine times. I didn't need any extra luck, so once or twice was enough.

On the Saturday, I walked around from the hotel to the National Museum. It's only about 15 minutes' walk. The huge sign outside read "open daily from 10am to 4pm". The sign on the gate read "the museum will be close today". When I went back on Sunday it was open. I later found out that Saturday had been a full moon day, which is a special occasion. It was pretty quiet in the museum. I accepted an offer of a guide, who turned out to be one of the senior curators and had been personally to many of the excavation sites and collected exhibits. We were joined by a small party of visiting dignitaries from Russia's armed forces. Four soldiers (?) who were being shown around by a young captain in the Myanmar army.

The museum has an ecclectic mixture of exhibits. There's the royal throne and treasures, art, musical instruments, fossils, artefacts from other ASEAN countries etc etc. It doesn't have very effective air conditioning. It does have a lift.

On Monday I went on a day trip to Bago, a former capital about 80 kms away. I'd engaged the services of the driver who took me from the airport to my hotel on arrival in Myanmar. He turned up as arranged, but told me he wasn't free and I should go with his friend. Everything was fine, and his friend turned out to be a good guide. We stopped along the way at the Second World War cemetary. Main Road No. 1 to/from Yangon has at least three big military installations along it, but there are no checkpoints restricting movement like you would see in many other countries.

In Bago the first stop was a monastery, where it is fine to wander among the monks and take photos. I'll post a video of them filing past huge bowls to collect rice for their lunch. Afterwards we toured the various pagodas and the royal palace. There's a very large reclining Buddha, and a big four figure pagoda I've already posted a photo of.

No comments:

Post a Comment